Internal strife continued in Town Hall last week as Constable Craig M. Schultz, claiming he's been frozen out of assignments for political reasons, sued the town and Chief Constable Robin R. Zastrow for at least $4 million.
The suit filed in State Supreme Court charges that Schultz's rights under state law and the U.S. Constitution were violated by the alleged decision not to let him work.
Town Attorney Robert O'Toole acknowledged that the town's ruling Republicans wanted to get rid of Schultz but couldn't legally do so.
"The Republican Committee would have liked that he not be reappointed [as a constable], but there is a provision that if somebody is in a position, even a part-time position, for more than five years, you can't remove them without an Article 75 hearing," O'Toole said.
He was referring to the section of state law that governs how employees with civil service protection can be terminated.
Schultz, who started as a constable in 1993, alleged in his lawsuit that assignments dried up after Robert B. Cliffe succeeded Timothy E. Demler as supervisor in January 2010.
Schultz, a Demler supporter, ran for GOP committeeman in 2010 but failed to crack the anti-Demler committee. Last year, Schultz lost a Republican primary for councilman.
Schultz's attorney, David W. Polak, said the $4 million isn't a claim for economic loss -- O'Toole said Schultz's constable pay rate is $13.44 per hour -- but for denial of rights.
Under Zastrow, who replaced Ronald Dworzanski as chief constable when Demler left office, the available hours of work are being spread around the eight-man force more evenly, O'Toole said.
"Perhaps the issue is that when Tim Demler was supervisor, because [Schultz] was a huge supporter, he got more hours than anyone else. Now he's not getting any less hours than anyone else. He's not receiving favored treatment," O'Toole said.
"They have systematically, constructively discharged him," Polak responded.
Polak said that in 2008 and 2009, the last two years of the Demler administration, Schultz earned more than $20,000 in the part-time constable post, which also included assignments as animal control officer and code enforcement officer.
Polak said Schultz was paid $220 in 2010 and $180 in 2011.
This January, during the controversy over treatment of animals at the SPCA of Niagara, Cliffe said at a Town Board meeting that if the SPCA was considered unsuitable, Schultz could assume dog control duties.
In an April 9 letter to Polak, O'Toole said Schultz was never reappointed dog control officer, but was asked to perform those duties from his constable post.
One of the issues is whether Schultz was demoted from sergeant to constable in 2010. The lawsuit claims he was, while Zastrow, in a letter published in The Buffalo News in May 2011, asserted that Schultz never held that rank.
Zastrow claimed that Demler gave Schultz some sergeant's stripes as a joke, playing off the character "Sgt. Schultz" in the 1960s TV comedy "Hogan's Heroes."
O'Toole reiterated that claim.
"You should ask Mr. O'Toole why this gentleman was able to walk around Town Hall for a year and a half with a shirt saying sergeant, and now they're saying that rank never existed," Polak said.